Sources: Wolves to fire Wittman if McHale will coach

Updated: December 7, 2008, 11:40 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The Minnesota Timberwolves are on the brink of firing Randy Wittman after Saturday night's 23-point home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, according to NBA coaching sources.

But Wolves owner Glen Taylor, sources say, wants Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale to agree to take Wittman's place on the bench before going ahead with a coaching change.

Going Backward

Randy Wittman has coached some bad teams and they haven't gotten better in his tenure.

Team
Record
Pct.
Cavaliers 32-50 .390
Cavaliers 30-52 .366
Wolves 12-30 .286
Wolves 22-60 .268
Wolves 4-15 .211

It would be the NBA's fourth firing already this season, following dismissals in Oklahoma City (P.J. Carlesimo), Washington (Eddie Jordan) and Toronto (Sam Mitchell).

Yet it's believed that McHale is resistant to coaching again, even on an interim basis, despite the fact that Minnesota's much-maligned vice president of basketball operations has been successful as an interim coach before, guiding Minnesota to a 19-12 record in the second half of the 2004-05 season after firing Flip Saunders with the Wolves at 25-26.

It would appear that Minnesota's in-house options for replacing Wittman would appear to be limited if McHale declines to return to the bench, but sources say another possibility is general manager Jim Stack, who has expressed interest in coaching in the past.

The Wolves declined comment Sunday.

When McHale coached previously, his roster was built around Kevin Garnett and still featured Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell and Wally Szczerbiak from the group that went to the 2004 Western Conference finals under Saunders in the most successful season in franchise history. These Wolves are much younger and still early in the rebuilding process after Garnett was traded to Boston in July 2007.

McHale nonetheless said coming into the season that he thought that this team -- using last season's respectable 17-26 finish as a springboard -- could make a run at .500 ball. The Wolves are well off that pace, losing 15 of 18 games since an opening-night win over Sacramento and looking increasingly disengaged under Wittman, judging by their four consecutive double-digit losses this week. The last two defeats, away to New Jersey and the loss at home to the Clippers, came by a combined 52 points.

"It's obvious that something has to change," one team source said Sunday.

Al Jefferson, who replaced Garnett as the Wolves' cornerstone forward, touched on the growing effort concerns Saturday night after the loss when he told local reporters: "It starts in this locker room with us. They could have Jesus Christ himself come and coach us, but if we don't go out there and play hard and play together, it won't mean nothing."

If this is indeed the end for Wittman, he'll leave the Wolves' bench with one of the lowest career winning percentages of all-time at .326. He has a career record of 100-207, going 62-102 in two seasons as Cleveland's coach (1999-2000 and 2000-01) and a record of 38-105 since taking over from Dwane Casey on Jan. 23, 2007. The Wolves were 20-20 in the 2006-07 season when Casey was dismissed, then went 12-30 under Wittman in Garnett's last days in Minnesota.

After Saturday's heavy loss, when asked about his job security, Wittman told reporters: "If you start worrying about it, there's nothing you can worry about. When you get hired, you're bound to get fired. No, you don't worry about it. I'm not. I've got to prepare these guys on where they need to get better, and that's what I've got to do."

Said Wolves rookie Kevin Love, who had 13 points and 15 rebounds in the defeat: "As you can imagine, no one is particularly excited. We have hit rock bottom."

The Wolves could have as many as four first-round picks in the June draft, but McHale continues to absorb heavy criticism for his front-office moves. In addition to the controversial Garnett deal, McHale preferred Randy Foye over Brandon Roy in the 2006 draft, used the No. 7 overall pick in 2007 on Corey Brewer -- only for Brewer to struggle mightily as a rookie and then suffer the misfortune of a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 29 -- and surrendered Memphis' O.J. Mayo in a draft-day deal last June that brought back Love and perimeter specialist Mike Miller. Even in a deep rookie class, Mayo is widely regarded as the most serious threat to Chicago's Derrick Rose in the NBA's Rookie of the Year race.

As recently as two weeks ago, Wolves owner Glen Taylor said Wittman's job was safe, telling the St. Paul Pioneer-Press: "If I worried about the short term, and I looked at the economy and all my companies, if I based things on that, then I'd fire all my presidents because they had a bad month. I've been through ups and downs. You've got to be patient. I think Randy has prepared [the players] well. We've just got to get them some confidence. They're still young."

But the Wolves have looked increasingly uncompetitive since a stunning 26-point victory in Detroit on Nov. 23 which appeared to ease some of the pressure on Wittman.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics